In a new study, researchers found that keeping physically active or becoming more active during middle and older age is linked to a lower risk of death.
People can get this health benefit regardless of their past activity levels or existing health conditions.
The research was done by a group of scientists from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.
Previous studies have shown that physical activity could help lower risk of death, heart disease, and certain cancers.
However, it still unknown how changes in physical activity over time are linked to the subsequent risk of death.
In the new study, the team analyzed how long term changes in physical activity are linked to risk of all-cause, heart disease, and cancer deaths.
They used data for 14,599 men and women aged 40-79.
These people were recruited between 1993-1997 for the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Norfolk (EPIC-Norfolk) study.
Participants were tested at the start of the study and then a further three times over an average of 7.6 years up to 2004.
From this point in time, death risk was tested up to 2016, for an average of 12.5 years of follow-up.
The team found that higher physical activity levels and increases in physical activity over time were linked to a lower risk of death.
In addition, the higher their physical activity, the lower their risk of death from any cause, heart disease, and cancer.
At the population level, meeting and maintaining at least the minimum public health recommendations (150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity) may prevent 46% of deaths linked to physical inactivity.
The team says that middle-aged and older adults with existing heart disease and cancer can still gain longevity benefits by becoming more active.
Public health efforts should also focus on the maintenance of physical activity levels, specifically preventing declines over mid to late life.
The study is published in The BMJ.
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